The football lights are coming on at the University of New Hampshire.
Lights will be installed at Cowell Stadium as part a renovation project that is due to be completed in time for the 2014 season, the school announced late on Friday afternoon.
The goal is to make it possible for UNH to play night games and allow it to improve its bids for NCAA playoff games as well as to attract high school championship football games and other events.
The work will be funded by $1.5 million that was included as part of a capital budget passed this summer, said State Sen. Lou D'Allesandro, who helped get the funds.
"I'm thrilled about it," D'Allesandro said on Friday night. "I think it's a great thing for the state because we can do so many things at Cowell. It's not only night games for the university, but state championships, Special Olympics and other events. We can do so many things that incorporate the university as a state entity that's there for all the people. It's been a long while coming."
Cowell Stadium was built in 1936 and has an artificial turf football surface with a track facility surrounding it. It has undergone a limited amount of renovation overall through the years.
"It's a first-class university and it deserves first-class facilities," said D'Allesandro, who graduated from the school in 1961 and was a captain of the football team in 1960. "Those (Cowell Stadium) facilities aren't any better than when I played over 50 years ago. This is a step in the right direction. We've got to do more for that university."
Structual elements will be included in the renovations as well. The general admission stands will be replaced and the concrete stadium seating and aisle ways will be re-oriented.
The repairs and improvements are phase one of a future expansion of the stadium site, UNH director of athletics Marty Scarano said in a release.
"The lights will allow us to extend the use of the stadium to better allow us to serve the state and its constituency," Scarano said. "For example, we hope to soon host many of the NHIAA outdoor championships to include the three football championships."
The athletics department is actively seeking funds to continue work, Scarano said.
"Hopefully this is a catalytic agent to get more involved in giving," D'Allesandro said. "We're moving in the right direction."
Patrick Corbin, executive director of the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association, likes the direction.
His organization sponsors high schools sports and championships, and he has been in discussions with Scarano and D'Allesandro about bringing the football title games to Cowell.
"We'd certainly be interested in having a neutral site for football championships," Corbin said. "I think it would be a real treat and real opportunity for our student athletes as well as for the university to showcase the improvements it's starting to make up there. I'm very excited about it and hopefully the football committee will be, too."
Corbin likes the idea of having the three high school divisions of football playing their title games on a single day at one facility, similar to what the NHIAA does with its baseball championships at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium in Manchester and with hockey at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester.
If renovation work goes as planned and all are on board, the football championship games could be played in Cowell Stadium as soon as 2014, Corbin said.